I loved what Crissa Chappell said this month at YA Outside the Lines: "Students are often told to 'add more' to their stories and essays. Finally, I discovered that it's not necessary to describe everything. Give the reader one or two important sensory details. Let them imagine the rest."
I may go a little too far in the minimalist direction
sometimes, but when I do it's because I am embracing that philosophy.
I'm trying to give the readers just enough for them to build the stories
in their minds.
There's also the question of subtlety in theme,
of how much of our main point to spell out and how much to leave for the
readers to figure out. In one creative writing class I took, I
responded to a teacher's critique of my holding back by saying, "I
didn't want to hit people over the head," to which she replied, "Hit
them over the head a little." After all, a point does have to be
visible. There is such a thing as leaving too many blank spaces.
But when it's done right, restraint has such power.
I saw an example this week, courtesy of a tweet by Sarah LaPolla. She linked to this essay by David Sedaris
on the loss of his sister. And the essay, naturally, is powerful
enough--would be powerful anyway because of the events it describes. And
because of that, it feels a little weird even to talk about the essay
in literary terms. But as a writer reading the work of another writer on
the New Yorker website, my writer brain does tend to whisper in the background.
I thought when I read the last line of Sedaris's essay was this: There
is an unspoken line there. He does not say, "This family is not as big
as it used to be; not as big as it should be." He doesn't say it, and he
doesn't need to say it. The reader says it. He invites the reader to
say it; he lets the reader say it. In fact, the whole essay is
stronger for what it doesn't say: about sudden losses, family rifts,
suicide, death, sibling bonds and sibling rivalries.
In this way,
the intimacy of reader and writer can be heightened. The writer places
dots in front of the reader, and the reader has to draw the lines that